Friday, June 22, 2007

French Politics

I had no energy and no motivation when I woke up this morning. The thing that reinvigorated me? Reading the fascinating news that France's Socialist power couple, Ségolène Royal and François Hollande, are calling it quits after almost 30 years. I first saw the news in Judith Warner's column in the NYTimes, though you can also find more info in this article and at the blog frenchpolitique.

Being in France during the presidential election cycle turned me into a shameless French-politics junkie. I keep up with American politics too, of course, but often they just depress me. French politics are more entertaining because they affect me less. Also, I do not always agree with new president Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right positions, but I don't detest him like I do American conservatives. He opposes the war in Iraq, supports ecology and civil unions, and never says "Bible" or "abortion"! Really, he's like the French Rudy Giuliani, not the French Dubya.

Mostly, though, I just like the personalities and gossip! "Ségo," the first woman to get to the 2nd round of a French presidential election, grew up with a misogynistic father. Determined not to marry young and be a housewife, she went to the prestigious "grad school" for potential civil servants. There, she met François Hollande and while they never married, they had 4 children together. François rose to become the head of the Socialist Party. Ségo kept a lower profile, but had important jobs like government minister and Regional President.

François Hollande and the other old-guard "elephants" of the Socialist Party assumed that one of them would get to run for president in 2007. But the media and the French people preferred Ségolène, the photogenic fresh face. She won her party's nomination, though not without some grumbling, and eventually lost to Sarkozy, 47-53. I saw her concession speech. She put on her lovely trademark white jacket and a glowing, serene expression, doing everything she could to impress. She even waved to her supporters from a balcony, looking for all the world like Evita: "Don't cry for me, Socialist Voters!" And the next day, she made a speech saying "Yes, we can defeat Sarkozy in five years...but only if we choose our candidate RIGHT AWAY!" In short, she's tasted power, and wants to hold onto it--to get designated candidate 5 years in advance.

You can imagine, of course, how François Hollande must've felt about all of this. And everyone in France seemed to know that the honeymoon couldn't last. Rumors swirled that the two had already broken up and were just maintaining a public façade--Ségo denied this. Thing is, in France, the press can't report on political figures' private lives: the libel laws are much stricter and there is just a tradition of being discreet. It's like Hollywood in the '30s or '40s: celebrities can do scandalous things, and the press keeps it hushed up. Which makes for a much more deliciously exciting atmosphere than the full-disclosure culture here in America.

So Ségo broke the news herself on Sunday, right after the legislative elections. As soon as the Socialists no longer needed to put up a united front, she announced that she had told François to move out, hinting he'd been cheating on her. Again, she's using this announcement to strengthen her position. She did it before François could (according to Warner, he wasn't even sure that the separation was final) and played the strong-woman card: "I told him to go his own way."

Like I said, we all knew this was coming. I should write to some of my French friends to see what they think of it, but I bet Ségolène's ambition provokes major distaste among Socialist party members, if it hasn't already. IMO, she's a flawed but fascinating woman. I would love to write a play about her! Or at least about a similar situation: a power couple where the woman starts becoming more successful and admired than the man, playing the game better than he does, until something's gotta give.

And that's not even getting into Nicolas Sarkozy's own personal situation...his wife Cécilia ran away with another man for a few months last year and has now reluctantly returned to "Sarko". She's barely been seen during the campaign or its aftermath, and didn't even vote on Election Day!

I'm sorry, but Bill and Hillary have got nothing on the French political couples.

Images: Election posters in Paris, the day after Ségo's defeat. Note also the poster of a much younger Jacques Chirac (from 1981!) that some prankster slapped up on the wall.

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